Children were among those laying flowers on Friday night at the church where David Amess had been holding a constituency surgery, as residents and colleagues in Leigh-on-Sea struggled to come to terms with the killing of the MP who had represented his Essex constituency since 1997.
Two women were with Amess at the time of the attack at the church on a quiet suburban street, and were “in a state of shock” when they contacted a party colleague, said John Lamb, 73, a councillor and former leader of the local council.
“They phoned her up to say: ‘David’s been stabbed several times.’ I came straight over,” he said.
For many on Eastwood Road North, the first sign that something had gone terribly wrong came with the sound of sirens, a police helicopter and air ambulance after officers were called shortly after midday.
Anthony Finch, a witness who was working on an adjacent building, described seeing someone being taken out of the building and put into the back of a police car.
“At the point when I was crossing the road I saw an upset lady on the phone saying: ‘You need to arrive quickly, he’s still in the building,’” he told Sky News.
Disbelief at events was compounded by the fact that the killing occurred after Amess had switched his surgery from the hall where it normally took place to Belfairs Methodist church.
“He decided he wanted to come out and about and meet people. So he held it all around the constituency in different locations, this being one of them. It’s a nice location,” said Lamb.
It was typical of an MP who was known for his attention to detail and local presence, friends said. On a previous occasion, staff were said to have been shaken by campaigners who had turned up with banners, but incidents of the sort that unfolded on Friday had been far from minds.
Constituents of Amess who spoke fondly of him included Sam Wilkson, a co-owner of a local pilates studio aiming to help people reduce pain, which had been promoted on the MP’s blog after he attended its opening in 2019.
“We were only talking about it yesterday in fact. We remember him coming to us quite unexpectedly and felt it was very generous of him to come. He was just extremely supportive and came across as very kind,” she said.
The MP, who had a majority of 14,459, was due to attend the Southend West Conservative association annual dinner on Friday night.
Remembering his colleague and friend, Lamb said: “He used to get the odd troublesome constituent, but he used to sort them out and there was no problem.”
David Garston, another local Conservative councillor, said the MP had been particularly upset by the death of Jo Cox, and local Tory party members had ensured that he was not alone when canvassing at election time.
“As far as safety was concerned, this is a safe place,” he said, “although we as councillors tend to try not to go out alone when it comes to meetings. At election time too we would have made sure that David would never have been alone.
“As far as a personal bodyguard was concerned, it was not something that was thought of but that might now be something that the government will have to look at again.”
Paying tribute to Amess, he described him as one of the best constituency MPs in the country. “David was everywhere and really put everything into looking after the town.”